AFTER 15 months and 28 meetings, the Legislative Council's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has finally ended its deliberations into the Hongkong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) and how it came to overspend its budget by a massive $1.6 billion. The 482-page report, delivered to legislators yesterday, was compiled not with the intention of seeking a scapegoat, but to ensure that lessons can be learned and a similar incident avoided. As much as the PAC report tries to be forward looking, it cannot help but blame the Government for its high-handed and ineptitude in overseeing the project. This will come as no surprise to those who have followed the public hearings of the committee over the past several months. Not only did government officials fail to keep the Executive Council and the Legislative Council Finance Committee fully informed of the project's progress but they made no attempt to brief either body when it became obvious thatcosts were escalating. Although the criticism directed at Government also reflects badly on its partners in the project, the Royal Hongkong Jockey Club, the PAC rightly avoids excessive condemnation of the completed building. The new university may not be a ''Rolls-Royce for the price of a Ford'', as HKUST chairman Sir Sze-yuen Chung once described it, but it is certainly designed and priced like a top-of-the-range model. Even if the design finally chosen turned out to be more expensive than originally planned, it was not somuch the choice, but the manner in which it was chosen that has provoked anger not only in the architectural community but among committee members, who remain split over how the selection of the design was made. The committee's focus is therefore on the manner in which decisions were taken, the lack of public accountability of those involved and the assumption that the taxpayer would stump up for whatever design changes, refinements and excesses were thought of during the course of the project. Instead of working from a fixed design planned well before the project began, HKUST was designed and built as if it was assumed the Government was standing by with a blank cheque at the ready. The committee is sharply critical of the failure of the Government and the Jockey Club to reach a formal agreement on their respective roles and responsibilities until after the project was virtually completed. There could be no better illustration of the weakness of this arrangement than the decision of the project committee to deprive the Government's representative of information. The committee claimed it kept back information because it felt material ''was being leaked to the press''. In the face of such lack of trust, yesterday's Government reference to the ''goodwill'' of all those involved rings a little hollow. However, it is the ''cavalier'' treatment of the Legco Finance Committee that arouses the most ire. The escalating costs were known about for many months before they were finally communicated to the Finance Committee in June 1990. Then legislators were presented with what amounted to a fait accompli. Deviations from the University and Polytechnic Grants Committee norms were not discussed with the Finance Committee on the spurious grounds that the Jockey Club had agreed to inject enough additional funds into the project to cover them. The extra money had not been earmarked for any particular expenditure items and Government spending was also required. These are not criticisms the Government should lightly ignore. Nor should it dismiss them with the attitude that ''we ought to be forward looking'', as it did in its reply to the committee yesterday. This is not a matter of looking for scapegoats, but of ensuring accountability in a territory where Government has for too long been allowed to operate with no effective checks on its behaviour. As late as June 1990, it could afford to come forward with a request for an additional $1.2 billion, knowing a then docile Finance Committee would offer no more than token protests. The 1991 maiden direct elections to the Legislative Council and the advent of party politics have changed all that - and for the better. Finance Committee now scrutinises public spending as never before. Public accountability is a concept for directly elected legislators as it could never be for appointed members, whose only constituency was the government that put them in Legco in the first place. The publication of the Director of Audit's criticisms of HKUST spending that first focused attention on the issue and yesterday's PAC report make it clear that Government will never again be able to rely on Legco to endorse its every mistake or oversight without expecting to be challenged.